Rain

"I hear the drums echoing tonight …"

Napoleon Solo, clad in the khaki of the African adventurer, nursed his gin and tonic in a corner of the bar. His quick eyes surveyed the patrons, locals and travelers. Outside the night was quiet, insects and animals not yet ready to take over from the human sounds of music and laughter. In his mind's eye, he could see Kilimanjaro rising in the distance, the three dormant volcanic cones still covered in ancient ice.

He looked at his watch. Midnight. The witching hour. His contact seemed to have chickened out on coming to see him. With only a code name to go by, Solo didn't know if his contact was a man or a woman. Either way, no one had approached him to ask about the feathers in his wide brimmed Great White Hunter hat. The conversations around him were quiet, very few of the clientele getting so drunk they were inclined to be aggressive. Except for the two waitresses, there didn't seem to be a lot of women in the place.

Half an hour after midnight, he decided to pack it in and return to his rooms. Moshi was a quiet provincial town; the only real tourist trade intent on snapping pictures of the mountain and wildlife out on the Serengeti. He paid his tab, sat the hat on his head at a slight angle and strolled into the night attempting to ignore the growing feeling of being watched. A part of him wished his usual partner was around, but the stubborn Russian was back in New York still recuperating from wounds inflicted on their last mission. The THRUSH madman they'd encountered seemed to be a combination of Dr. Dabree and Dr. Egret with a penchant for skinning his enemies. Illya had lost a three inch swathe of skin down his side.

UNCLE medical in New York had successfully used an experimental mesh to encourage new skin growth, but the process was time consuming as well as painful for the Russian, leaving him occupied in R&D instead of out in the field. Napoleon wondered again whether the two of them were too close to being friends to work together. He dismissed the thought as the crawling feeling between his shoulderblades took on life as dark figures emerged from the shadows of the building to surround him.

Training fell into place and he fought his attackers but the number of men surrounding him grew in a most unsettling fashion. Black hands clutched at him, chilling his skin where they touched until they took him under, piling over and under him until he was smothered in the dark.

Half a block away, Miriam Akele hurried toward Solo and his attackers. A small slender woman in her mid twenties, her dark skin hid her from observing eyes as she rushed to find the man she was to give the information she stole from her employers. She had been so fortunate to get a good job as a secretary, a responsible position for a woman of her background. Then she realized that her employers were evil men, not because they were white, although they were, for the most part foreigners; but for what they were doing. Their manufacturing site was a sweatshop full of children and young people being worked to death on some project she could not begin to understand. Her Aunt Bethani put her in touch with the uncles, men who had the good of the world at heart. She made the commitment to meet with a man at the bar another of her actual uncles owned. Now she was late, the foreman kept her finishing up reports he needed for the next day. She did not understand the reports as they were neither in her native tongue nor in the English she worked so hard to learn.

Ahead of her there was something in the street, some sort of action. She stopped and stared. It was as though the shadows had life and were taking a struggling man down. Fear held her in place until a hand grabbed her hair and tugged her head back. Before she could struggle, Miriam felt the sting of a sharp blade across her throat. Then she could not breathe, blood spurted forth and air rattled from the wound in her neck.

Hands like ice held her, tipping her to one side to catch the red fluid, black in the moonlight, in a bowl. Her last thought was of the man she would not meet and of the horrors in store for her people because she died here and foolishly.